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A Look Back At Star Raiders

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the xwing-fans-take-note dept.

Classic Games (Games) 104

blacklily8 writes "Gamasutra has just published our history of Doug Neubauer's Star Raiders, a 1979 game for the Atari 8-bit that offered 'high-speed first-person perspective through a fully navigable 3D-like environment in just 8K of RAM (memory) and 8K of ROM (storage).' Designed by the creator of the Atari's POKEY chip, Star Raiders was a hit on its home platform but now seems to have fallen into obscurity: 'Star Raiders is a shining example of what happens when a developer is told that something can't be done, does it anyway, and then is promptly forgotten for having done it.' In addition to describing the game itself, the article focuses on its impact on later games such as Wing Commander, X-Wing, and Elite."

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104 comments

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First Post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29363005)

Nobody will ever need more than 8K of memory.

Re:First Post (-1, Redundant)

dintech (998802) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363053)

Interesting fact: If you put all the pointless first posts on slashdot end-to-end, it can strech from here to more than 8K.

Re:First Post (0)

JustOK (667959) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363165)

Including pointless second posts increases the limit to more than 640K

Re:First Post (1, Funny)

mb1 (966747) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363271)

only if you haven't loaded your mouse driver and slashdot.com into himem...

Re:First Post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29365183)

it can strech from here to more than 8K.

I think you'll find it can stretch to OVER 9000 !

Re:First Post (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366965)

Well, in the case of the Atari 2600 it was assumed that 4K was enough. Later it was extended through bank-switching cartridges.

Had it for the 800 (1, Troll)

YeeHaW_Jelte (451855) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363237)

This came with the machine originally, but didn't much like it. Gameplay was pretty much absent.

Got better games in magazines, that you had to type by hand into the machine, and the debug for hours or days even because you inevitibly made typo's in the hunderds of lines of code.

Later, when we got a floppy drive for the machine, my father used to stop over on at Crazy Eddies in Montreal to get us games, those were the days, great stuff.

Anyway, my point is I think most of the games that took Star Raiders as inspiration used it as a marker pointing to where the improvements were to be made: in gameplay. See e.g. games like Elite which u

Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (3, Interesting)

argent (18001) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363365)

My experience playing Star Raiders was pretty poor. I'd sit there pecking at the controls for a few minutes, then something mysterious would happen and I'd get blown out of the water.... uh, vacuum. It seemed more like a technology demo than an actual game.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (2, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363847)

I guess you missed the point of it. It wasn't an arcade game for trigger-twitchers. Maybe you should have tried reading the instructions.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364693)

By the time it came out I'd already written a "mainframe star trek" style game on the 11/70 at Berkeley.

Combining that with a "trigger twitcher", as you put it, was just a plain bad idea.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29365567)

It was a bad idea to assume that people might be willing to invest a couple minutes in learning how to play the game rather than poking at keys like a chimp and then giving up when a banana didn't pop out.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (1)

oatworm (969674) | more than 4 years ago | (#29367451)

jfjklwe89045j qwe[9556]j\4db95asdl;werpiou12345;

What, no banana? Screw this - I'm never commenting again!

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (1)

Creepy (93888) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366713)

Yeah - I remember playing this at Sears several time and not really figuring it out. However, I'd say the "clone" as they called it, Space Battle on the Intellivision was more an arcade game and the later Space Spartans was actually more similar to Star Raiders. Both had a similar map. The interesting thing is Space Battle's ships were Battlestar Galactica cylon like and Space Spartans were Star Wars ('79-80 was BSG and 82 was shortly before the last Episode VI). My brother and I played those games for... well, an hour a day for many many days (mom kept a tight leash on video game and TV time - 1 hour a day or lose all privileges for a week - she would hide the console's cord and unplug the TV).

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (0, Troll)

Threni (635302) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364335)

It was a shit game, like most of the games from that period. It's impossible not to look at most old games and not laugh.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29364525)

You actually needed to use the keyboard. There were things like radar views and sector grids. Not to mention those little coordinate numbers that could give a bearing to a contact. And if you changed up your speed enough, the computer tended not to adjust much to that.

Now if you were on a crappy 2600 port w/o the keypad thing, yeah you were screwed.

But recalling my experience on the 130XE, this game could actually be fun - in a crude 8-bit simulation kind of way. And that's considering that this game was old by the time the XE series came around.

With all the current 3D OpenGL and such, I'm surprised nobody has tried to make a decent modern port of this with aspects true to the original. Maybe work in multiplayer, etc. after the old school controls and warping mechanic is re-created. Some would argue X-wing or whatever is a sucessor, but some of the schemes are still too different in comparison. (In StarRaiders missions weren't that linear, as you could hyperspace into or out of a contested grid. And the different views and aft guns had an actual gameplay aspect.)

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (1)

mikael (484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365743)

With all the current 3D OpenGL and such, I'm surprised nobody has tried to make a decent modern port of this with aspects true to the original.

There were/are related games which each improved upon the visual quality (, [wikipedia.org] Wing Commander [youtube.com] and Wing Commander V [dailymotion.com] ).

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (4, Informative)

Junks Jerzey (54586) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365127)

It seemed more like a technology demo than an actual game.
For the time, it was amazingly deep in terms of gameplay. I don't know what other real-time game you could even compare it to. You had several tactical views, you had to manage fuel, system-specific damage, the AI felt menacing (in terms of how it would home in on your starbases). Fuel wasn't just magic; you had to dock with a starbase to get more. The whole game was highly interactive in a real-time way: AI units would move when you were looking at the map view, you could veer off course in hyperspace and end up in adjacent sectors
I actually thought the visual side of things was fairly lame.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365421)

I don't know what other real-time game you could even compare it to.

That kind of thing made more sense to me in turn-based text games like the super-enhanced Star Trek game on the DECsystem-20.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (2, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366371)

Why? If you imagine yourself piloting a space fighter, these are all things you'd have to do in real time. Star Raiders was a conscious effort to combine the strategy of the Star Trek mainframe game and the Star Wars arcade game. IMO, it was a great success. To this day, I spend a lot more time playing Star Raiders than I do either of those games. To me it sounds like you just don't like it because you're bad at it.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366861)

To me it sounds like you just don't like it because you're bad at it.

Yeh, I'm not good at playing a stripped down version of Star Trek and a twitch-based video game at the same time.

I'd rather do one at a time, especially back in the early '80s when there were some really awesome turn-based strategy- and tactical- level space war games on the ARPAnet.

If you imagine yourself piloting a space fighter [...]

I imagine I'd get blown out of vacuum on day one of that too.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (1)

Atario (673917) | more than 4 years ago | (#29373779)

I actually thought the visual side of things was fairly lame.

You forget, this was 1979. That kind of onscreen motion simply didn't exist at the time (at least, outside of vector displays). Starfields that fly past as though you were moving through them in 3-D? Planets shooting past? And not even in an arcade? Mind-blowing stuff, back then.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (1)

mikael (484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365897)

You should have checked your radar, there was probably a fighter/pirate behind you. Elite had the same objective. You had to fight off the pirates ie. chase after them and kill them before you could do anything else, otherwise they are just going to wear down your shields until your ship explodes.

Any game is going to feel terrible if you don't what all your options are. I had a similar experience with those apache helicopter simulations. The goal was to land and rescue the hostages, but would always end up being shot down before being able to land.

Re:Glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366183)

Oh god, I bought one helicopter simulator for the Amiga and after a weekend in which I managed to take off *once* I took it back.

Re:Had it for the 800 (5, Informative)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363837)

I thought Star Raiders on the Atari 400/800 was brilliant. It was the first "home computer game" I saw that actually took advantage of the platform. With Space Invaders or Asteroids or Missile Command (its arcade contemporaries) you just sat there shooting at stuff. More complex, thinking-based mainframe ports like Zork or the original hacker Star Trek didn't use the graphics capabilities of modern (i.e. 1980s) computers. Star Raiders mixed the best parts of Star Trek (map-based strategy) with a graphically exciting first-person space shooter that use not only the joystick but various keys on the keyboard, as if you were piloting an actual ship, not just firing a gun.

Re:Had it for the 800 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29366447)

Not just that, the thing that stuck with me is several on-board systems could get either "damaged" (work with issues) or be "destroyed" (not at all). So you could still continue - I think it was the subspace radio that was needed to update your map - by guessing the advancement of the Zylon forces towards their target starbase by hyperjumping into what looked like an empty sector (due to the damage).

That's no troll (1)

xrayspx (13127) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365239)

That game was pretty frustrating to a 12 year old who just wanted to blast things on my 800, and didn't have time for strateger-izing. In fact, as I grew up, I always favored games like GTA and Counterstrike over strategy games that sucked too much time away or required me to RTFM (WoW, which I've never ever played).

I can see that Star Raiders was groundbreaking without having enjoyed it, that doesn't really make anyone a troll.

Re:That's no troll (2, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366431)

It's not a troll to say you don't like Star Raiders. It is a troll to say "gameplay is pretty much absent", when the game is deeper than most other games of the time.

No kidding (4, Funny)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363277)

Star Raiders was a hit on its home platform but now seems to have fallen into obscurity

In other news, Pong was a hit on its home platform, but now seems to have fallen into obscurity.

Re:No kidding (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363419)

Everybody knows Pong even if they don't play it anymore, I wouldn't call that obscurity.

Re:No kidding (0)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363489)

You show your age my friend. Talk to most 15 year olds of today and they don't know anything older than Doom, much less Pong.

Re:No kidding (0)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363523)

(cue 15 year old)

Doom? Wasn't that, like, you know, the first computer game, or something?

Re:No kidding (2, Interesting)

Rewind (138843) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363761)

Eh, I don't know about that. I am 10 years older than a 15 year old, but I know games older than myself. The topic game included. It was released just shy of 5 years before I was around, and yet I know of it and played it. When I was a kid friends and I would actually "two player" it. One on the extra pad and one on the joystick. It was actually pretty fun, at least for little kids after it got too dark to play outside. So that said, I bet plenty of 15 year olds know some older games.

Re:No kidding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29368779)

Most don't even know Doom. My 12-yr-old actually LAUGHED at missile command and moon patrol.

I grew up with an Atari 800XL (eventually a 130XE) and a Vectrex. There were a lot of games that were just plain "fun" for both platforms. Especially the Vectrex.

I was real young when both platforms were still kicking but I remember it fondly. I know of very few games today that will still be fun to me in 20 years.

Re:No kidding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29369661)

My 12-yr-old actually LAUGHED at missile command and moon patrol.

I do hope you punched him/her in the nuts/cooter.

Re:No kidding (1)

Agent Green (231202) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363453)

It probably fell more into obscurity due to its horrific 2600 VCS port.

The port to the Atari 5200 was sweet and, at least by the screenshots, was faithful to the original. It was one of my favorite games growing up, in part because it wasn't some kind of terrible arcade knock-off.

Re:No kidding (5, Interesting)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363921)

The port to the Atari 5200 was sweet and, at least by the screenshots, was faithful to the original.

That's hardly surprising- the 5200's internal hardware was apparently near-identical to the 400/800, with only minor tweaks to the memory map and replacement of ths OS with a simpler monitor program.

Aside from changing references to a few memory locations and altering the joystick handler to allow for the 5200's different controllers, the 5200 version is probably the same code as the original!

Although I was never a massive fan of Star Raiders personally (it was already almost ten years old when I first saw it), in retrospect I can see that it was a brilliant game and technical feat by the standards of its time. It definitely deserves a lot of respect for that along with adding some depth to the shoot-'em-up genre.

Re:No kidding (1)

Atario (673917) | more than 4 years ago | (#29373679)

Aside from changing references to a few memory locations and altering the joystick handler to allow for the 5200's different controllers, the 5200 version is probably the same code as the original!

I can attest to this, even though I never owned a 5200. There were several 5200 games that people had dumped and tweaked to run on the 8-bit computers. You could usually tell because (1) the sound was usually somewhat strange and (2) you had to press * and # on the keyboard to do certain things that would normally be done with things like SELECT or OPTION.

Re:No kidding (1)

IorDMUX (870522) | more than 4 years ago | (#29367341)

It probably fell more into obscurity due to its horrific 2600 VCS port.

I owned the Atari 2600 port, and it was always one of my favorites for the system (when it worked, that is). The port required much more reprogramming than the 5600 port due to the limitations of the system, (4K cartridge memory, 128 bits RAM, and some absolutely crazy graphical display constraints that you can read about on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] .

By far, the biggest limitation to playing the game (aside from losing the manual and forgetting what all the buttons do) was the lousy quality of the keypad that came with the game. The 2600 controller only has a single button, so covering all the features (hyperspace, galactic map, scan, shields, etc.) required a special keypad laid out like a rubbery touch-tone telephone to be plugged into the controller 2 slot. Unfortunately, after a year or so, I started needing to pound the buttons harder and harder to get a response from the system, up to the point where it stopped working altogether. The internal contacts themselves tend to flatten out, and no amount of dusting was able to fix the device.

Still, a landmark game... Even though I rarely achieved a rank higher than "Ship's Cook" at the young age when I played the game.

Re:No kidding (-1, Troll)

Briareos (21163) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363725)

In other news, Pong was a hit on its home platform, but now seems to have fallen into obscurity.

Naaah, it probably just got banned in the US for the sexual references [youtube.com] ... :D

Re:No kidding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29365073)

In other news, Pong was a hit on its home platform, but now seems to have fallen into obscurity.

I disagree. [bash.org]

Re:No kidding (1)

bughunter (10093) | more than 4 years ago | (#29368613)

We used to play Bong Pong in college, on a 15-year old atari Pong machine. Every time you scored a point, you got to do a bong hit.

Of course, the game started out with people trying hard to points, but after a while it became hypnotic and mesmerizing as the players found the "BongPong Zone," which lasted until players forgot how operate the paddles.

Good times. Good times. Lasting brain damage.

Re:No kidding (1)

The Ultimate Fartkno (756456) | more than 4 years ago | (#29369707)

Of course, the game started out with people trying hard to points... players forgot how operate the paddles.

Good times. Good times. Lasting brain damage.

Clearly.

Forgotten? (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363299)

Who says it's forgotten? Nearly everyone I know who's my age remembers it quite fondly.

-jcr

Re:Forgotten? (3, Insightful)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363409)

Who says it's forgotten? Nearly everyone I know who's my age remembers it quite fondly.

-jcr

I remember it quite well. What I find interesting is that many such games actually hold up well, despite graphics taht are best described as primitive; the gameplay was anything but and that's what made the games good. Simple concepts - fFooger, Space Invaders, even Pong still hold their own today.

X-Wing marketing conspiracy (4, Interesting)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363301)

Lucas Arts announces an upcomming space sim followup to X Wing and Tie Fighter, lo and behold, someone Named Matt Barton ( http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dir/Matthew/Barton [linkedin.com] ) who is an online marketing consultant posts a story to the front page of Slashdot, plugging X-Wing (a true nerd would have plugged the fan favorite, TIE-Fighter), thus increasing marketing buzz for the new X-Wing title. Now, two questions for you slashdotters,
 
1. Am I reverse-psychology marketing you slashdotters for the new Lucas Arts game, and
 
2. Who will be the first one to find a monetary link between Matt Barton and Lucas Arts?

Re:X-Wing marketing conspiracy (1)

Tiro (19535) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363519)

I should have known!

Karl Marx quotation == bitter social science graduate who sold out and went into marketing.

Re:X-Wing marketing conspiracy (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29363715)

"You know, what this article really needs is a quote from Karl Marx." ...That sounds to me exactly the same as...

"You know, what this article really needs is a quote from Mein Kampf."

Re:X-Wing marketing conspiracy (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366407)

Wow, I must have missed the bit where old Karl decided to give up on writing about economics and run an empire of communist death camps instead...

Regardless of what you think about the content of his work, Marx was a state leader to approximately the same degree that Milton Friedman was a captain of industry.

Re:X-Wing marketing conspiracy (5, Informative)

Briareos (21163) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363767)

Boy, that Matt Barton sure did a lot to cover up his marketing tracks, like writing a book about vintage games [amazon.com] or being an assistant professor in Minnesota [gamasutra.com] .

He's also listed right above the marketroid you mentioned [linkedin.com] - freak coincidence or the usual /. conspiracy?

You decide... (that is - if you've read that far...)

Re:X-Wing marketing conspiracy (1)

Professor_UNIX (867045) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363889)

That's very confusing. Apparently more than one person in the world is named "Matthew Barton". Why would parents choose such an obviously non-unique name for their child? Isn't this a problem that leads to identity theft and credit problems? I suppose I'm just lucky to be blessed with a name nobody else in the world or the history of the world has ever had so my name is more unique than my social security number.

- Vishna Rembilakalaktimenticus

Re:X-Wing marketing conspiracy (1)

Megane (129182) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364265)

Samir: No one in this country can ever pronounce my name right. It's not that hard: Na-ghee-na-na-jar. Nagheenanajar.

Michael Bolton: Yeah, well, at least your name isn't Michael Bolton.

Samir: You know, there's nothing wrong with that name.

Michael Bolton: There *was* nothing wrong with it... until I was about twelve years old and that no-talent ass clown became famous and started winning Grammys.

Samir: Hmm... well, why don't you just go by Mike instead of Michael?

Michael Bolton: No way! Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.

Re:X-Wing marketing conspiracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29366847)

Speaking of conspiracies.... there's also a Matthew Barton listed as Engineering Manager at RSA Security in Australia... and RSA has two letters in common with NSA... Just sayin' (in hoodspeak).

Re:X-Wing marketing conspiracy (1)

t0rc (788914) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366627)

I have a funny story about X-Wing vs Tie Fighter. I was at E3 in Atlanta in 1998? (the one year they had it there), One evening I was at the bar at my hotel close to the convention center. I was trying to pick up a woman who was sitting at the bar, and talking to her about video games in general. During my ramblings, I made a few comments about xwing vs tie fighter and some guy walks up to me and says "OK tell me what you don't like about X wing vs Tie fighter". I said "oh, you must work for lucasarts".. he's like .. yup, So I gave him both barrels my true feelings on the game. I had been a big fan of the X-Wing and Tie fighter games and considered myself a 'skilled' player. When I played XW/TF it was a very very steep learning curve, even the training missions were super difficult, and made the single player very unpleasant because you never felt like you were able to accomplish anything. I said a few other negative things and could tell I had really rattled his cage. All he shot back was.. "Well have you tried the multi player?" I told him I hadn't (ironically this game was torn apart because of its horrible multi player later, in fact there was a documented post mortem in trade magazines on how poorly it was developed) he said, "Well the multiplayer is great!" I assured him he was probably right and that I'd check it out ^rolls eyes^. I then said that I was a big fan of a lot of their other products and asked if he wanted to swap business cards. He said "Oh you mean like a business contact?" I said yeah, and we traded cards and I didn't even look at it, just put it in my wallet, bid him a nice evening and continued my conversation with the woman I was trying to bed. The next day I looked at the card, It was from Jack Sorenson, the president of Lucasarts.. I still have that card around somewhere. I never did call him up. I wonder if he would have remembered me.

Re:X-Wing marketing conspiracy (1)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 4 years ago | (#29373111)

Your story wasn't all that funny.

Video link (3, Informative)

Tiro (19535) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363337)

Video of the game on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlsdNKPYw0s [youtube.com] .

The article managed to work in a Karl Marx quotation--and it actually fits!

What an article! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29363385)

Wow, this is one of the worst articles I've read in a while. Rambling, uninformative...The Youtube video it links to is actually one of the worst (you can't see anything!) available. I walk away feeling like I know less about the game than when I started...And I OWNED it.

In those days coders could actually code (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363593)

Try and get the latest generation of coders out of uni to do something in 8K of memory and they'll probably just about manage "hello" before they complain that their favourite singleton class needs more memory to instantiate their modified string class I/O subsystem so they won't be able to print out "world" and expecting anyone to
do that in 8K is clearly impossible.

I jest , but anyone who had to code a serious app in available memory measured in kilobytes knows just how bloated todays development enviroments and even compiled output is.

Re:In those days coders could actually code (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364515)

I jest , but anyone who had to code a serious app in available memory measured in kilobytes knows just how bloated todays development enviroments and even compiled output is.

No, actually, we don't. Writing a program that fits into 8KB is a lot easier if you don't have to worry about anyone ever reading or modifying your code (games shipped once and were never patched / updated) or portability ('porting' back then meant 'writing the same game on a different architecture'). It's fun writing heavily-optimized code, and it's a great feeling of achievement when you make something work in tight resource constraints, but it's not a sensible way of doing development. A lot of us can still write code that fits into those constraints, but choose not to because we can be orders of magnitude more productive if we don't. Next time you're feeling nostalgic, remember the line from the Stantec Zebra manual, explaining that the 150 instruction limitation for Simple Code programs was not a problem, because no maintainable program could be longer than 150 instructions.

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364939)

"Writing a program that fits into 8KB is a lot easier if you don't have to worry about anyone ever reading or modifying your code (games shipped once and were never patched / updated) or portability ('porting' back then meant 'writing the same game on a different architecture')"

Right , because 8 bits games were never ported to multiple types of machines.

Oh , wait....

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365293)

They weren't ported -- they were completely rewritten from scratch for each new machine.

How else are you going to explain Pac Man for the 2600? [wikipedia.org]

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

MemoryDragon (544441) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365377)

Not entirely true, infocom used a vm underneath and had a lisp like language to implement their games.
I also can remember a C compiler for the Atari XL not that you really could get decent programs out of it.
If you wanted to get something working you had to go the assembler route!

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365403)

"They weren't ported -- they were completely rewritten from scratch for each new machine."

For some they were , for some they weren't. If the CPU is the same on different machines you don't need to rewrite the core logic, just the I/O sections and any memory address handling.

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366921)

Well, it depends on which machines are involved in the porting. Atari 2600 games were written in assembly and due to the 2600's "roll your own" graphics system 90% of the code is I/O. Typically the "core logic" of the game could only run during vertical blanking.

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

Creepy (93888) | more than 4 years ago | (#29368037)

I'd say yes for computers, no for old consoles. I ported Z80 code (Tandy) to Apple ][ and in general it was pretty straightforward, but porting pretty much anything to, say an Atari 2600 or Intellivision is an entirely different bird - for starters, Intellivisions were 10 bit, and nothing is really straightforward to port. The main processor of the Atari 2600 was actually a stripped down 6502 (called a MOS 6507) which could only access 8k of memory, but Atari's cartridge slot only allowed 4k of this to be accessed (the rest were for internal memory and the I/O processor). Both Atari and Intellivision had special I/O processor hardware that could have only so many sprites moving at once and they could only be so large. The I/O processor hardware required custom coding, which pretty much means all graphics and movement logic needed to be written from scratch, and in those days, that was about 95% of the work (AI was pretty much scripted or shortest path and dialog non-existent).

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#29368393)

Writing a program that fits in 8KB is a lot easier when you are using tools and architectures designed to target such memory constrained systems.

First of all, you have an 8 bit processor. Most commands are one byte, most operands are one or two bytes.

Secondly, you don't load everything into RAM. A lot of what you want is on system ROM or (in this case I'm guessing) a game ROM. It's tricky to manage this, true, but the user in those days tolerated delays that didn't interfere with actual game play.

Finally, users didn't expect much. Graphics were mostly simple blitted bitmaps.

I had an assignment a few years ago to evaluate whether an embedded system that tracked container locations with GPS and sat communications could be modified to send its data encrypted. The processor was an 8 bit PIC and there was something like 10K RAM to play with. My conclusion was that from a programming standpoint it could be done, but that a real cryptographer would have to be involved to vett the software design, given the low entropy of the messages.

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | more than 4 years ago | (#29370023)

What delays? Games off of cartridges load a lot faster than off of anything else.

Maybe others remember games on cartridge-based systems that have delays. I'd be interested in examples of them if there are.

BTW, many of the PS2 games I've played are well-designed and have negligible delays, except for the original starting of the game. Others [even some of my favorites, like Psychonauts] have horrific delays between levels, or sometimes even within a level.

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29370757)

The delays weren't common with ROMs, but they were a bit later on cassettes. An 8-bit CPU typically uses 8-bit banks of 8-bit addresses, giving 16-bits of address space, or 64KB. If your game came on ROM, it was just mapped into the system's address space. This meant that the system routines and the game routines used address space, but not RAM, leaving the whole 8KB available for temporary storage. In 8KB, you don't really have space for a heap; you typically have static allocations and (maybe) a small stack. A bit later, when these machines had 64KB of RAM, the games shipped on cassettes, and then the loader would just load the contents of the cassette into a block of RAM and execute it. Probably, at this point, people like the original poster started complaining about bloat.

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | more than 4 years ago | (#29372787)

Yes, cassettes are obviously entirely different from cartridges (ROMs).. Cassettes are obviously way slower than floppies too..

But he seemed to have actually seen delays with cartridges. Even with bank switching or other hacks to get 'extra' space, there shouldn't be noticeable loading times.

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

MemoryDragon (544441) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365231)

Try and get the latest generation of coders out of uni to do something in 8K of memory and they'll probably just about manage "hello" before they complain that their favourite singleton class needs more memory to instantiate their modified string class I/O subsystem so they won't be able to print out "world" and expecting anyone to
do that in 8K is clearly impossible.

I jest , but anyone who had to code a serious app in available memory measured in kilobytes knows just how bloated todays development enviroments and even compiled output is.

Well if you can spend two days on a hello world output you still can press it into a few bytes... but no one is paying for that stuff!

Re:In those days coders could actually code (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#29368061)

I've been programming since the 1970s, professionally since the early 80s.

There are more great programmers today than there was then, and many, many more very good ones, and vastly more really bad ones.

Things were different then. It's very common now to build programs that run for an unpredictable amount of time, handling asynchronous data inputs of an unpredictable nature. That amounts to your typical desktop application or web service. Back then, that described mainly operating systems. The vast majority of programs processed a bounded stream of data to produce easily characterizable outputs: take this set of time sheet records and produce a set of payroll records, etc. Application programming today is what we used to call "systems programming".

There were no application frameworks. Only function libraries. The only "system architecture" we had to deal with was the operating system, and that was by in large easier to understand and master than a typical Java framework. The numbers of abstractions we had to learn to get anything done was small. When we needed an abstraction, we created ones *for our own use* and while we'd have liked them to be usable for other purposes or for other programmers, it wasn't as big a priority as getting the job done.

Yes, we had to deal with resources constraints in RAM, storage and processing power. I've programmed on systems with 4K of RAM, professionally on systems with 16K of RAM. But that's only *one* kind of difficulty. Back then a programmer who could write maintainable code to produce an easily verifiable result with little resource use was a great programmer. That's all it took. That's only a *start* today. To be a great programmer now, you've got to deal with two things that we hardly ever had to worry about: complexity and uncertainty. That's why I have to rate the job of programmer as less satisfying than it used to be; so much more of your time is spent dealing with the fallibility of others rather than dreaming up new ways of doing things.

A top notch programmer now might be expected to produce a *framework* which is supposed to make life easier for some programmers he's never met working on problems he's never seen. How does he know he's got it right? In fact, usually they get it at least a little wrong, often very wrong. If a framework is workable for a modest number of problems and can be fixed with respect to the problems people want to use it for, then it's successful. Framework designer fallibility imposes a burden on programmers downstream, who have to figure out how to hammer the job requirements they're given into the frameworks they've got to do things immensely more complicated than what the vast majority of programmers did back in the early 80s.

I'd say that most programmers today have more skills and knowledge than we had back then, except within the very narrow bounds of the kind of work we were doing. Within those bounds, there are many more programmers today who could do those jobs as well or better than we did, although the proportion of programmers who could do that might be smaller compared to the number of currently active programmers.

As far as 8K of RAM is concerned, I don't think comp sci grads train for that kind of work, but I'd bet you'd find a lot of EE grads interested in embedded systems who could do great things with it.

Star Raiders vs. Star Master (3, Interesting)

Zombie Ryushu (803103) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363635)

One of the problems with Star Raiders on the 2600 is that it required a keypad to play, and if you didn't have a "Video touch pad" you were screwed. I nearly screwed over my chances to get a NES when I asked for the video touch pad as an alternative. (My parents never could find the device. It was extremely rare, even in 1989.

Star Master on the other hand had no such requirement. The game required two Atari controllers and the switches to play. It had superior game play. (It had a rank called Wing Commander. a Foreshadowing of the Wing Commander series?)

Years later I played star Raiders on an emulator, and based on what I had seen, if I had gotten that video touch pad instead of the NES, I would have been furious. Star Raiders for the 2600 was horrible.

God I feel old.

Re:Star Raiders vs. Star Master (1)

Megane (129182) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364301)

Actually, the keypads from "Basic Programming" would have worked too. They were electrically identical, but the VTP looked much, much cooler. Also, there was a big kiddie button pad for the Sesame Street 2600 games, but you would have been laughed right out of your neighborhood if seen using that.

I thought the VTP was only a pack-in with Star Raiders 2600 anyhow. How could you have gotten the game without it, other than by buying it used?

Re:Star Raiders vs. Star Master (1)

Zombie Ryushu (803103) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366805)

Thats exactly right. It came in a shoebox with 10 other games. I had no idea what a "Video touch pad" even was.

Re:Star Raiders vs. Star Master (1)

swb311 (1165753) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366997)

Sadly enough, pretty much any of the keypads you'll come across in the used market have the "Star Raiders" overlay. The "Basic Programming" cart is becoming the holy grail of the 2600 world.

Re:Star Raiders vs. Star Master (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#29368357)

Really? Atari Age only rates it a 3 in their rarity guide. And it's not like you could do much with the cart, you were limited to 11 lines.

Re:Star Raiders vs. Star Master (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366697)

One of the problems with Star Raiders on the 2600 is that it required a keypad to play, and if you didn't have a "Video touch pad" you were screwed. I nearly screwed over my chances to get a NES when I asked for the video touch pad as an alternative. (My parents never could find the device. It was extremely rare, even in 1989.

When I got Star Raiders for 2600, it came packaged with the extra controller. The whole package got resold pretty quickly at a huge loss. It was terrible on that platform. You're right that Starmaster was much better. Like other Activision games of that time, you could send in a screenshot of your score and get a token -- a patch with your rank as I recall. The 7200 version of Star Raiders was much better, and I wore out two controllers with that game.

I'm not the only one fascinated by 8KiB of RAM (2, Interesting)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363699)

Even now, it seems the C64 scene is alive and well.

Recently I stumbled across another, newer project. The Fuzebox. It's a 28mhz dual-chip(chip, not CPU) retro console, with 4KiB of RAM and 64KiB of flash. Someone actually got a movie player working on it...

Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWWsSn_QKLM [youtube.com]
Homepages:
- http://www.ladyada.net/make/fuzebox/ [ladyada.net]
- http://belogic.com/uzebox/ [belogic.com]

Apparently many people are fascinated by working with minute amounts of memory.

Train my dog to bite anyone who says "kibibyte";-) (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363977)

I think you're an imposter! If you were a real retro computer fan on a nostalgia trip, you'd be thinking of it as "8K" or "64K". No-one ever even called it "64KB" in those days, let alone the vile SI-nitpickers-in-cahoots-with-marketers-pandering-vileness that is "64KiB" (spit!)

Re:Train my dog to bite anyone who says "kibibyte" (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366739)

I think you're an imposter! If you were a real retro computer fan on a nostalgia trip, you'd be thinking of it as "8K" or "64K". No-one ever even called it "64KB" in those days, let alone the vile SI-nitpickers-in-cahoots-with-marketers-pandering-vileness that is "64KiB" (spit!)

But there were the rabid anti-IBMers who used the tongue twisting "kilo-octets".

Re:Train my dog to bite anyone who says "kibibyte" (1)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 4 years ago | (#29371559)

Hey, I never said I was a member of the C64 scene!

Just pointing it out. Recently I was looking up microcontrollers for a project, and was quite shocked to realize they've passed the imfamous C64! :P

I wonder if Atmel [atmel.com] are C64 enthusiasts? They still list their S-RAM in K. And here I thought they were just being sloppy!

Elite lives on... (1)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363741)

...but its now called Eve Online. Its the same game only with Internet enabled multiplayer option.

As a former owner of a BBC Micro Model B as a teenager, I remember Elite and an amazing (for its time) racing game called Revs.

Oh G-d I feel old...

Re:Elite lives on... (3, Interesting)

zr-rifle (677585) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363813)

Actually, many years ago I tried Eve Online hoping to satisfy my cravings for another Elite game, but was quite disappointed.

Elite is primary a spaceship simulation game, with elements of commerce thrown in to a good measure, while Eve is a massively multiplayer role-playing game with strong elements of economy and politics.

The opportunity is still out there for a developer who wants to create a Frontier - Elite II clone that is massively multiplayer. No software house seems to have hit the spot yet.

Re:Elite lives on... (1)

segedunum (883035) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364957)

Elite...... God I loved that game. No matter how much I wanted to be a nice, peaceful space trader I could never resist the urge to bounty hunt other ships.

Re:Elite lives on... (1)

Starcub (527362) | more than 4 years ago | (#29365189)

Have you tried X3? I too was looking for a follow on to elite, and in manyt ways, found that X3 was a suitable replacement. The early releases were quite buggy, so the game didn't become very popular. However, the game is now very mature with various mods for it having been developed by the community. It's an old single player only game, but the online community for it is very much active.

Re:Elite lives on... (1)

V for Vendetta (1204898) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366699)

Actually, many years ago I tried Eve Online hoping to satisfy my cravings for another Elite game, but was quite disappointed.

Agreed, EVE isn't a good substitude for Elite. Sounds like you were more looking for something like Jumpgate Evolution [jumpgateevolution.com] .

Re:Elite lives on... (1)

SquirrelCrack (522382) | more than 4 years ago | (#29368597)

Check out Vendetta Online

http://www.vendetta-online.com/ [vendetta-online.com]

Elite is one of my all time favorite games and Vendetta had me hooked for a year or so with it's great twitch based combat.

Star Raiders got killed (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#29363831)

By a Japanese style remake for the Atari ST a few years later that ruined the franchise. The original Star Raiders had a yankee dystopic feel to it, but the change in feel for the ST version was just too much. And by then Wing Commander was the most influential game of the genre "launch my little fighter from a spaceship and go fight hoards of enemies" genre.

1979? Nope, try 1980. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29364055)

I remember the Atari rep coming and demo'ing the game to us at the computer store I worked at. I started work there in January, 1980.

Re:1979? Nope, try 1980. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29374037)

Yeah, because you were on the priority list for first viewing of that game. So there is no way it was made or sold earlier than january 1980, because YOU, with your computer store experience, are the fount of all knowledge in this area.

Jesus. People like you really irritate me. You have zero factual knowledge of the subject, but spout off anecdote as if it were fact. All because you saw a demo at some point, and this leads to factual knowledge of the development date, and to top if all off you really felt the need to post that information because its all relevant and stuff.
 

I liked star raiders but it was no M.U.L.E. (1)

mikeabbott420 (744514) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364215)

My old Atari 400, I still blame your membrane keyboard for my two finger typing.

Re:I liked star raiders but it was no M.U.L.E. (1)

psxndc (105904) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366459)

holy crap. All this time I thought I just never learned to type. I never connected it to our first computer (the Atari 400). World... crashing....down.....oi.

Enjoyed Star Raiders ][ more (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364243)

That was a hell of a game. I still get chills when thinking about refueling in the outer atmosphere of the star. Lost many a ship that way.

He used the black&white toggle for the map (1)

kriston (7886) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364417)

This game was really awesome.
Not to be confused with Activision's Starmaster--instead of a keypad that game used the black&white toggle switches for the extra controls.

Re:He used the black&white toggle for the map (1)

kriston (7886) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364455)

Naturally I was referring to the Atari 2600 version of this excellent game.

Star Raiders and Atari 8 bit vs C-64 in retrospect (1)

tarpitcod (822436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29364427)

Star Raiders was a great game. It was fast, hard and a really fun game to play. Considering when it came out, it was a real testament to just how good the Atari 8 bit was in terms of graphics and sound. It was all there - display list with different modes, player-missile graphics (sprites), good sound effects for the time, and fast 3D action. In general the Atari 8 Bits excelled at real-time 3D types of games compared to the C-64 (Encounter anyone?). The 64 kicked the 800's butt in terms of platform games (it has better sprites) and everyone loved SID. Paradroid was great, and who can forget the Last Ninja tunes, ghosts and goblins etc. To get a good idea of what the 8 bit was capable of check out 'De Re Atari'... it's by the guy who wrote Star Raiders. it's a really good read, and any Amiga hackers will see lots of deja-vu when they read how players work and priority levels and the magic that was Jay Miner.

http://www.atariarchives.org/dere/ [atariarchives.org]
No flame war intended here. Like I said the C-64 was an awesome machine in it's own right and rocked.

Here's how I think of the lineage (regardless of company) Atari 8 bit -> Amiga C64 -> Atari ST (but not so good a fit, maybe the Atari ST is more like a new PET?).

Any commodore history folks have some insight? The C-64 for the time was better than the ST in my opinion. Jay Miner actually wanted to build a 68K based successor to the 8 bit at Atari and when management said no he left and did it anyway and we got the Amiga.

--Tarp

Re:Star Raiders and Atari 8 bit vs C-64 in retrosp (1)

mypalmike (454265) | more than 4 years ago | (#29366011)

The 64 kicked the 800's butt in terms of platform games (it has better sprites)

Indeed. IIRC, Atari's "Player Missile Graphics" only allowed for 3 player sprites and 4 missile sprites (or 4 and 0 respectively if you chose that route). All sprites were monochrome. Players were 8-pixels wide, and missiles were 2 pixels wide. I never did any serious game development on the platform, but I always figured most games used their own blitting routines for sprites.

Could the article be more annoyingly pedantic? (1)

manicbutt (162342) | more than 4 years ago | (#29367089)

If these guys are trying to sell a book, this isn't the way to do it. The article really turned me off because of their writing style. Barely relevant references to Karl Marx, Star Trek, Red Dwarf are annoying enough, but inserting them as footnotes is beyond pompous. I suppose I got some pleasure out of the juxtaposition of Loguidice's typically purple prose next to Atari VCS screenshots, though.

Star Raiders was Atari's killer app (1)

Franklin Brauner (1034220) | more than 4 years ago | (#29367709)

Star Raiders was the reason I purchased an Atari 800 computer over an Apple ][. It was a magnificent game -- especially coming in the wake of the original Battlestar Galactica & first Star Wars. Star Raiders came bundled, and was a huge attraction to the systems. It showed how expansive feeling a game could be. I still play the game to this day (my Atari 800, btw, still boots up as if it were the 80's -- talk about rugged design!).

The Atari 400/800 set my net worth back by half (1)

divemaster (221040) | more than 4 years ago | (#29367941)

Discovering this machine in my early twenties wasted so much great time.

Star Raiders - I first saw it in Erols playing on a 'big screen' (25" or so). I had to have one - up til then I had been saving for an Apple - now it all went to a 400 with tape machine, BASIC, one joy stick and Star Raiders.

Star Raiders - 3D first person stick controllable space warfare, a full set auxiliary systems that impacted gameplay - with great strategy to boot.

I hooked more friends on that game and sold a few Ataris.

I always thought the explosion 'slowdown' was to savor the moment grin - it was taxing the hardware.

In addition to excellent renditions of most fun arcade games the platform also came out with:

M.U.L.E. - Still never equaled beer & screw your neighbor game - If only the Wii had this.

Silent Service - Greatest sub sim for eight bits - sinking a carrier and surviving was incredible.

Eastern Front - Great Avalon Hill style wargame - again done in very small 8K.

Ballblazer - Very smooth 2 player hockey type action - limited strategy but again amzing on 8 bit 6502

and of course all the normal Zork and Space invaders type games.

Yep would be driving a Tesla instead of a Civic if it wasn't for that computer....

What is RAM Anyway? (1)

dark grep (766587) | more than 4 years ago | (#29374331)

Well now I know what RAM and ROM is, thank you for adding that clarification. You see, I have been dead since the mid 70's and would not have otherwise known.
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